6 January 2018

Uganda's Ruling Party Shifts Gears for Referendum, 2021 Elections

Parties on either side of Uganda's political divide are weighing their options in the wake of President Yoweri Museveni signing the controversial "Age Limit" Bill last week.

The changes to the Constitution need a direct public vote in a referendum whose date is yet to be set, leaving the ruling National Resistance Movement and the opposition courting voters all over again.

It would be expected that NRM faces the easier path to the run-in, but party strategists are not confident of a win saying they need large numbers.

"You don't want to go into a referendum unless you are sure you are going to win it and win decisively with a very high margin. Scraping through with a low margin or even losing it would complicate matters for the general election. That would embolden your opponents so you want at least 70 per cent. That way you dispirit the opponents," an NRM strategist said.

Meanwhile, the opposition is considering what chances they would have convincing judges to annul the changes. They would challenge the changes on the grounds that Parliament repudiated public trust by extending its own term, that of the executive and that of local councils from five to seven years.

Public interest

"We are definitely going to mount a challenge to the constitutionality of the amendment. There are already many challenges in court that Parliament ignored in passing this amendment, and that is grounds for sub judice," said lawyer Ladslous Rwakafuzi.

He said several lawyers and opposition legislators would pursue a public interest cause.

"The people were not consulted, especially on the extension of Parliament's term. Where an attempt at consultation was made there was intimidation, people were prevented from expressing their views," Mr Rwakafuzi said.

NRM strategists see the referendum as a test of President Museveni's popularity ahead of the presidential election in 2021.

"A referendum in this case would be about Museveni. You are basically asking the people: Do you want President Museveni to stay on for another two years on his current term? Your opponents could give you a hard time after the two years, in this case in 2023."

President Museveni's aides are keen to win mass support through delivery on promises of the last campaign.

"We need at least two years from now to do some real work before the next election cycle starts," said a senior strategist for the president.

The campaign cycle starts in August 2020, with NRM primaries and its launch of companies two months later. The strategist said NRM sees 2020 as the ideal date for the referendum.

"To process to arrive at a candidate for the NRM for the 2021 election will be determined by the party in 2020, unless the Parliament proposal for the two year extension is approved (by referenda)," said Moses Byaruhanga, the presidential assistant for political affairs.

Even as President Museveni focuses on the next election, his aides are having a difficult time fighting the perception that he is the principal beneficiary of the changes.

They say many people above 75 years and below 35 would be interested in running for positions.

Uganda

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